Monday, September 21, 2015

Giving Thanks for God's Deliverance of the Messiah: Learning to Pray Ps 18 (Part 1)

Psalm 18 is the third longest psalm after Pss 78 and 119. Psalm 18 focuses on the victory that God gives to Israel’s king. Like Psalm 2, it is a royal psalm. This means that it was originally written as a psalm for use in the celebration of David or one of his descendants. Royal psalms offer a tangible this worldly focus for the security that God’s people desire as they seek to walk faithfully through the world. From our previous reading of Ps 2 and Ps 146, we know that the book of Psalms makes two related moves regarding human kingship.

First, the book of Psalms was organized for worship after Israel’s exile to Babylon and return to the land. Historically, this meant that Israel did not have its own king. Post-exile, the Persians, Greeks, and Romans ruled over God’s people from 538 BC onwards. The only exception was the brief period following the Maccabean revolt (142 BC–63 BC) where God’s people enjoyed self–rule. Thus, when Israel prayed and sang the royal psalms, they were asking the LORD to restore the Davidic king. These psalms served as longings for the coming of God’s messiah who would renew God’s kingdom and guide God’s people in faithfulness.

Second, the psalms offered a critique of human leadership. We saw in our reading of Psalm 146 that it warned against trusting in any human leader. The LORD was the true king.

As Christians, these two elements—a longing for the messiah and distrust of human leaders— found a powerful resolution in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Jesus is the long–awaited son of David, and he is also God. Thus, as followers of Jesus, we read Israel’s royal psalms as prayers and praises to God for the victory over sin, injustice, oppression, and evil that he offers to all who trust and follow Jesus.

In verses 1–19, the king gives thanks to the LORD for leading him to victory. We’ll focus on vv. 1–6 for today’s lesson.

I love you, Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
    my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
    my shield[b] and the horn[c] of my salvation, my stronghold.
I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
    and I have been saved from my enemies.
The cords of death entangled me;
    the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
    the snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called to the Lord;
    I cried to my God for help.
From his temple he heard my voice;
    my cry came before him, into his ears.

Verses 1–3 praise the LORD with rich and dynamic language. These lines have inspired countless hymns and contemporary praise songs that God’s people use to this day. The previous two psalms (Pss 16–17) focused on God as a refuge. These verses give us words to describe what this means. The LORD is a rock, a fortress, a shield, a deliverer, and the horn of salvation. The LORD is worthy to be praised because the psalmist has experienced the power of God’s salvation. This is not a lament; this is the testimony of answered prayer. The LORD is a refuge because he is the God who saves.

Vv. 4–6 describe the psalmist’s previous condition as truly desperate. He was trapped in death. The waters of the underworld ensnarred him. When we think of this psalm as ultimately a praise for the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we can read vv. 1–6 as a declaration of the victory that the LORD rendered through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus died on the cross, but God vindicated him by raising him triumphantly from the grave. This is the true ground for our security.

How do the opening six verses teach us to give thanks and praise to the LORD?

What are some areas in your life for which you can give thanks to God today?

How does this psalm help us to praise God for the death and resurrection of Jesus?

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